His name might feature prominently in the title, but prolific Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti takes a back seat in this new production written by award-winning playwright Joan Greening (author of ITV’s
Rossetti’s Women is clever, entertaining and well-executed
In Greening’s one-woman show, the concentration is on the women in Rossetti’s life. Talented performer Julia Munrow plays all three of the Pre-Raphaelite founder’s famous lovers: the prostitute Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti’s wife Lizzie Siddal and Jane, the wife of his best friend and fellow painter, William Morris.
Greening’s script and Munrow’s shrewd characterisations deftly bring these three very different women to life. Munrow finds pathos, humanity and humour in all her characters, but it is Fanny who truly captures the imagination. Independent, determined and loyal to the end, Fanny is a great character and Munrow clearly relishes playing her.
It is notable that Rossetti’s Women dissipates the Byronic aura of mystery around the great painter. By and large, this production bypasses romanticism in favour of realism, asking the audience to question what it would really be like to be courted by such a man. Memorably, all three women inform the audience how they knew Rossetti was in love with them when he called them by the terms “dear heart” and “little one.” As each woman recounts this anecdote in turn, the audience become ever more aware that Rossetti is an unfaithful and disloyal lover. The repetition becomes almost laughable and Rossetti’s ‘great lover’ reputation is cleverly dismantled through farce.
Alternatively, one could argue that because Rossetti is kept unseen, he becomes all the more charismatic. The audience can imagine him however they like, with no tangible reality to persuade them otherwise. His moods, paintings and talent are effectively brought to life without him saying a word or ever setting foot on stage. If you are unaware of Rossetti’s paintings before you see the production, you will undoubtedly be hunting them out afterwards.
Rossetti’s Women is clever, entertaining and well-executed, even if it at times seems more of an extended character study than a well-rounded play. The production features a fantastic performance by Munrow and offers thought-provoking observations on love, relationships and life along the way.